BWI mail center to be tested for anthrax

Workers should take antibiotics, officials say

October 24, 2001|By Laura Barnhardt and Johnathon E. Briggs | Laura Barnhardt and Johnathon E. Briggs,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County officials said yesterday that couriers, truck drivers and other private employees who recently worked in an express mail center in Linthicum that is to be tested for anthrax contamination should begin taking antibiotics for possible exposure to the potentially lethal bacteria.

U.S. Postal Service officials said yesterday that they've seen no indication of anthrax contamination at the mail center, about a half-mile from the main terminal at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

But Anne Arundel officials, acting on advice from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said "contractual" employees who have been in the mail center since Oct. 10 should join the 200 postal service workers from the facility and begin a 10-day course of antibiotics.

"This is a precaution," said county Health Officer Frances Phillips. She said as many as 300 private employees could be affected, but she reported that federal authorities said postal customers did not need to be treated or tested - at least not yet.

"It's a very different scenario than the one in Brentwood," she added, referring to the Washington mail-handling facility where two employees have died of inhalation anthrax and two others are sick with the illness - including Leroy Richmond, who also worked three days a week at the BWI mail center.

Authorities have said that the number of anthrax cases at Brentwood leads them to believe the contamination that sickened Richmond occurred there and probably not at the BWI facility.

The BWI facility remained closed yesterday, roped off with yellow tape and guarded by Postal Service police. The 60,000-square-foot facility was to have been tested for contamination yesterday by the CDC, but the CDC team was delayed by its work at the Brentwood post office, said Postal Service spokesman Bob Novak.

Novak said yesterday that results were pending on tests for anthrax exposure that were given at D.C. General Hospital to 200 postal service employees from the BWI facility.

The Linthicum mail center handles mostly express mail and air mail, but the spokesman said it is possible that an anthrax-laced, first-class letter sent to U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle passed through the facility.

As many as 300 employees who work for airlines, couriers and agencies for temporary employment had access to a back room where express mail is processed, county officials estimated.

The mail center is "C" building in the Cargo Complex at BWI.

Sun staff writer Rona Kobell contributed to this article.

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